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Research Projects

We have a number of recently completed projects, funded by the British Academy, the British Association of International and Comparative Education, and Society for Research into Higher Education.

CEPA also has a research budget which seeks to primarily allocate seedcorn research funding, and we welcome applications from colleagues which contain a clear contribution to our research programmes, adopt an interdisciplinary focus, and extend collaboration across departmental, university, and national boundaries.


A Comparative study of policy and practice for Education for Sustainable Development/Global Citizenship (ESD/GC) in teacher education across UK nations

Dr Phil Bamber, Dr Alison Glover (University of South Wales), Gerard McCann (St Mary’s University College, Belfast), Ms Andrea Bullivant (Liverpool World Centre)

The early 21st century has seen a period of extreme turbulence in education at all levels in the UK. Although education policy was administrated on a territorial basis before 1999, the 1998-1999 devolution settlement has amplified the complexity of education policy and practice across England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland. Through a comparative study of teacher education across the 4 nations, this project will highlight aspects of divergence and convergence of policy and practice with a particular focus on Education for Sustainable Development / Education for Global Citizenship (ESD/GC). This project will explore the implications for ESD/GC in relation to statutory teaching standards/competencies, values and ideologies, curriculum and pedagogy and the role of the third sector. It intends to identify opportunities and challenges facing ESD/GC in teacher education across the four nations.

English and Australian academics on ‘Teaching Excellence’

Dr Namrata Rao

Recent debate in the English higher education sector around the Teaching Excellence Framework has led to a decisive shift in focus towards excellence in teaching within English Higher Education institutions (HEIs). The key aspect currently being debated is – what is ‘teaching excellence’ and whether a metric based system would facilitate any realistic measurement of this contested concept? Accordingly to Williams (1961), conception of and understanding of ‘teaching excellence’ is contextual and is influenced by the wider societal, economic and political contexts.

The research study is intended to identify the differences in the academics’ conception and interpretation of the term ‘teaching excellence’ and its impact on academic work in two differing national contexts – England and Australia with the view to identify how these conceptions might be underpinned by the differences in the educational discourses and educational ideologies within HEIs in the two countries. Further, the academics’ views on the measurability of the contested concept ‘teaching excellence’ will be gathered. The project is being conducted in collaboration with Dr Brendan Bartram (University of Wolverhampton) and Dr Tanya Hathaway (University of New England).

Immigrating academics in the pedagogic 'foreign-land': Factors influencing their pedagogic acculturation

Dr Namrata Rao

With globalisation there has been an increase in cross-border travel of academics within Higher Education (HE). It is estimated that in the UK HE around 28% of the academics are non-British (HEFCE, 2015). These immigrant academics often have a ‘pedagogical habitus’, related to their previous teaching experience and learning environments. This may result in a ‘pedagogic dissonance’ created by the mismatch between the learning-teaching practices these academics are accustomed to and the ones they are exposed to in their new context. Using Berry’s acculturation theory (1997), we contend that any consequent dissonance may lead to separation, marginalisation, assimilation or integration of these academics in their new pedagogic environment. Using a questionnaire, the study will draw on the pedagogical experiences of at least fifty immigrant academics within the first five years of their teaching within UK HE institutions (HEIs), followed by interviews with ten of these respondents for an in-depth understanding of the issue.

It is anticipated that the data will help explore any barriers these immigrant academics may perceive in teaching in the UK and how they experience their host HEIs’ strategies to acculturate them into their new pedagogic milieu. Findings will help identify any ‘pedagogic dissonance’ these academics face to better understand their professional teaching and learning needs. The research would be of value to academic developers, senior management and native academics in helping meet the professional needs of the immigrant academics to successfully integrate their pedagogical practices in a ‘symbiotic internationalisation’ of the teaching-learning process.

Investigating academic optimism

Dr Claire Lloyd (Liverpool), Sue Cronin, Michelle Pearson, Judy Boyce (Liverpool City Council)

The School of Education is participating in an international research project, with colleagues in America and New Zealand, to investigate Academic Optimism. Academic Optimism is a property of schools’ organisational structure that has been found to have a powerful impact on pupils’ learning, even after controlling for SES (socio-economic status) and prior performance. Indeed, an increasingly strong body of theory and research has emerged that links academic optimism with school performance (Hoy, Tarter, & Woolfolk -Hoy, 2006). We seek to extend these findings, testing their fidelity across different contexts and augmenting the largely quantitative research-base with qualitative Case Study work. We also seek to collaborate with schools to enhance academic optimism through targeted professional development activities.

Languages of Inequality: Widening Participation and Social Justice In UK Educational Policy Discourse

Dr Joseph Maslen, Dr Konstanze Spohrer

We are engaged in critical discourse analysis of UK education policy as it pertains to social and economic inequalities. Our research brings together the linguistic and Foucauldian traditions of discourse analysis, investigating the framing of social inequality policy problems for governmental action. Our enquiry includes: (1) the discursive logics of ‘raising aspiration’ strategies and the ways that these are negotiated in schools; and (2) the rhetorics of management and competition that appear in current policy on social mobility and working-class educational achievement. Two key outputs have recently been published: Maslen (2019) Cracking the Code: the social mobility commission and education policy discourse, Journal of Education Policy; and Spohrer, Stahl and Bowers-Brown (2017), Constituting neoliberal subjects? ‘aspiration’ as technology of government in UK policy discourse, Journal of Education Policy.

Mediation and enactment of fundamental British values in schools

Dr Phil Bamber, Dr Alison Clark (Liverpool World Centre), Dr David Lundie (University of St Mark & St John)

Based within the Fundamental British Values Programme, this is a multi-method study of the factors influencing new teachers’ understandings of Fundamental British Values. Data collected includes

A pre- and post- intervention survey (n=62) measured the levels of teachers’ awareness and understanding before and after undertaking the course, which aimed to develop awareness of global citizenship, and a short practice-based project.

Peer-participant ethnographic observations were carried out in 5 primary (elementary) schools in which the practice-based project specifically referenced Fundamental British Values, and narrative interviews were carried out with 12 students and 5 school principals involved in the project.

Documentary analysis of the students’ final projects to evaluate the values and positionality underpinning students’ understandings of the Fundamental British Values agenda.

Migrant Academics and Professional Learning Gains: Perspectives of The Native Academics

Professor Ian Kinchin (University of Surrey), Dr Namrata Rao, Dr Anesa Hosein (University of Surrey), Dr Will Mace (University of Surrey)

This SRHE-funded research addresses an important gap in the internationalisation of the higher education research, that of the pedagogic impact of international staff recruitment on the professional practice of the native academics. Previous research has largely focussed on the experiences of the migrant academic and their acculturation; this research on the contrary focuses on the possible professional gains/non-gains of academic migration on the professional practice of the native academics. Concept map-mediated interviews with 15 native academics highlighted similarity in the factors that affect the professional learning gains of both migrant and native academics. Further, the native academics identified that the cultural sensitivity they developed working alongside migrant academics enabled them to better understand the cultural context of their international students. Findings also indicate the value the native academics placed on the first-hand experiences migrant academics offered in enhancing the curriculum of which they only had a textbook knowledge.

Metrics in Higher Education: Perspectives of Academics from England and Germany

Dr Catherine O’Connell, Dr Cathal O’Siochru, Dr Namrata Rao, Dr Roland Bloch (Martin-Luther-Universität Halle-Wittenberg)

Metrics are a relevant issue for most of us, whether we are in management positions, researchers with an interest in the topic, or as academics affected by these performative practices in daily life. This BAICE funded Anglo-German research project takes a comparative exploration of the role of metrics by looking at two contrasting cases – of the highly developed use of metrics in England, and where they are just beginning in Germany.

Through a survey of over two hundred academics and over thirty interviews we examine academic responses to metrics in terms of the associated accountability practices at the organisational level and the perceived effects on professional practice. Drawing on concepts from organizational studies literature that identify different dimensions of organisational justice, we examine perceptions of ‘procedural justice’ (fairness of organisational processes associated with metrics) and ‘distributive justice’ (fairness of outcomes associated with metrics).  The comparative study draws attention to institutional practices that can contribute to academic perceptions of fairness and an indication of the possibilities and limits of democratic forms of accountability in metricised environments.

Parents’ conceptions of Teaching Excellence in English Higher Education

Dr Frank Su

The purpose of the study is to explore parents as 'stakeholders' in higher education in England and how they perceive teaching excellence. The study adopts a qualitative research design using an interpretative approach which aims to develop understandings of parents' perspectives as higher education ‘stakeholders’. The empirical data will be gathered via focus group interviews with approximately 25 participants. There is a well-established literature about parental involvement in schools. However, there is a lack of research on parental involvement in higher education particularly in relation to their involvement in the current debate of teaching excellence.

Pedagogies of Punishment

Dr John Tillson, Dr Winston Thompson (Ohio State University)

Funded by the Ethics and Education Foundation, this series of philosophy colloquia held at Ohio State and Liverpool Hope Universities, explores the normative foundations, ethics and legitimacy of different approaches to managing challenging behaviour in schools. The project authors hope to identify further questions in need of empirical investigation, as well as contributing to a conversation between restorative, punitive and consequential approaches to justice in the classroom, and between understandings of punishment in the philosophy of education, social science and legal theory.

Personal Liberty, Mutual Respect and Tolerance: From Values to Virtues

Dr David Lundie, Dr Carly Bagelman, Dr Phil Bamber, Dr Victoria Blinkhorn (Sunderland), Dr Joseph Maslen, Dr Cathal O’Siochru, Dr John Tillson, Dr Antonio Zuffiano.

Following a large grant from the Templeton Foundation’s ‘Self, Virtue and Public Life’ funding call, the team of researchers from Liverpool Hope University will join 10 other teams of researchers, managed by Professor Nancy Snow at the University of Oklahoma, to explore civic virtue in contemporary society. The project draws on ethnography and ecological momentary assessment to understand the processes by which young people understand, identify with and live the ‘fundamental British values’ of personal liberty, mutual respect and tolerance, and their impact on subjective wellbeing.    

Religious Education and Social Disadvantage

Dr David Lundie, Michael Ashton

Part of the Culham St Gabriel’s Trust’s Research7 suite of projects examining practical research to support Religious Education teaching and teachers, this project attempts to identify and mitigate barriers to RE success for students experiencing disadvantage. Whole population data analysis of GCSE Religious Studies reveals important differences in pupil deprivation (measured by Pupil Premium and Free School Meals funding) between schools with and without successful RE at Secondary level. A survey of student attitudes, and a teacher practitioner action research community are also planned, to shed light on particular perceived barriers.

Students as Research Collaborators: The relationship between Identity, Engagement and Collaboration in the study of Research Methods Pedagogy

Dr Cathal O'Siochru, Dr Frank Su, Dr Namrata Rao

This project adopts a collaborative approach for the teaching and learning of undergraduate research methods. By collaborating on a research project related to the staff’s research area, students should learn about the area of research, the research process and research methodologies in general. We are looking at better understanding, and theorising, the relationship between the construction of students’ research identity and engagement with research methods, as well as our own research and teaching identity. We are adopting a mixed methods approach, employing a predominantly qualitative design with a small number of quantitative elements, combining analysis of a reflective diary for students with data such as grades and attendance rates.

The Development of New Teachers' Understandings of 'Fundamental British Values'

Dr Phil Bamber, Dr David Lundie (University of St Mark & St John), Dr Alison Clark (Liverpool World Museum), Ms Andrea Bullivant

Based on multi-method analyses of a course on wider global perspectives in a teacher education program in England, this project examines the development of teachers’ relationship to the teaching of Fundamental British Values. These values, enumerated in the National Teachers’ Standards and embedded in inspection policy, are a relatively new development and have been subject to criticism for their links to a security and counter-terrorism agenda. Initial findings suggest the emergence of a more complex relationship between professional duties and personal values among new teachers as they engage reflectively with Fundamental British Values during teaching experience.

The Unseeing Eye: Disability and the Hauntology Of Derrida’s Ghost, A Story In Three Parts

Dr Alan Hodkinson

Through the employment of the three stanzas of Thomas Hardy’s poem ‘The Self-Unseeing’ this research trembled the picture of disability located in the pedagogical materials in English Schools. By mobilising, and then reversing, Derrida’s concept of the visor and the ghost, as well as Bentham’s Panopticon, this story reveals the power of the Them, the Their and the They. In materialising the ghost of the real of disability within a utopia of hope this research deconstructs the power of Their transparent house by revealing disabled people as magnificent beings.

What makes an excellent lecturer? Academics' perspectives on the discourse of 'teaching excellence' in higher education

Dr Frank Su, Dr Margaret Wood (York St John University)

Taking a critical perspective on the discourse of ‘teaching excellence’ and building on our previous research from the perspectives of students (Su & Wood, 2012), this CEPA supported study examines what sense academics make of the concept of ‘teaching excellence’. We are interested in academics’ general view of the concept; examples of ‘teaching excellence’; the distinction between ‘good’, ‘good enough’ and ‘excellent teaching’; and the measurability of ‘teaching excellence’. In framing our take on this discourse we reject the underlying authoritarian assumptions about performativity inherent in neoliberal policies and instead we argue for ‘excellence’ to be repositioned within a concept of higher education as a democratic public sphere.

It is our contention that teaching practices need to be understood and evaluated in terms of situated context, for ‘practice is necessarily contextualised. We argue for a rebalancing of performative meta-understandings of ‘excellence’ in favour of understandings which displace the dominant shallow ‘vacuity of excellence’ and instead position participatory dialogue and moral purpose at the centre. We argue for a more expansive and considered conceptualization of ‘teaching excellence’. In developing this more expansive view, we assert the importance of a cosmopolitan outlook on teaching quality.

Reference: Su, F. and Wood, M. (2012) What makes a good university lecturer? Students' perceptions of teaching excellence. Journal of Applied Research in Higher Education, 4(2), 142-155.